I don't know where the "C" is, but the "F" is at the top of his report card...

>> Monday, August 31, 2009

Glenn Be_k epi_ally fails spelling on-_amera, a__identally _ausing another _lassi_ _omedi_ moment from the Be_kster:



>> Friday, August 28, 2009

So I just watched URGH! A music war and I'm feeling a little giddy from it. I've seen maybe half of it over the past nearly-thirty years, and only in snips and bits. This was the first time I'd seen it in its entirety straight through, and there were some parts (like Gary Numan's original version of "Down In The Park," a song I mainly know through a phenomenal Foo Fighters cover) I'd never seen at all.

URGH! is, if you're a certain age, a classic. The gist is that Miles Copeland, record label founder (I.R.S.) and band manager was trying to promote some acts on his label and that he represented, including an up-and-coming band his kid brother had started up that he managed (but was actually signed to A&M, probably in part to avoid conflicts of interest), and so he helped put together a concert festival and film featuring some of the hottest rising bands in postpunk and new wave.

The funny thing about the nepotism, as some of you may already know, is that kid brother Stewart's band, which he played drums for, was called The Police and featured a jazz-bass-playing, reggae-singing schoolteacher named Gordon "Sting" Sumner and a prog-guitarist named Andy Summers who'd previously done mostly session work for people like, oh, you know, the late Jimi Hendrix and others. The other funny thing is that while The Police were fairly big in 1981, the year the movie was made, and prominently bookend the start and finish of the movie they arguably weren't as big at the time as some of the other acts featured, like Devo or Gary Numan despite already having several hits under their belt at that point. And adding salt to that punchline is the fact that URGH!'s relative "nobodies" include The Go-Gos, Oingo Boingo, Joan Jett (not wholly unknown from her previous life as a Runaway, but not quite established as a solo act), XTC, The Fleshtones, OMD, Jools Holland, Pere Ubu and Echo And The Bunnymen. Yeah. That's the kind of movie it is.

So people have been waiting for years for this movie to come out on DVD, and it finally has, sort of. It's still waiting for the definitive DVD treatment, although one imagines that licensing issues for some of these acts are so thorny at this point that it may just be impossible to remaster the soundtrack or get some of the players to agree to a reissue. Some of the acts in URGH! actually have fallen off the Earth, others wound up embroiled in ugly litigation with their labels and/or management, still others (I'm looking at you, Gary Numan) are simply notoriously finnicky about agreeing to let their back catalog be licensed for anything. It's actually a surprise that the movie's seen any kind of reissue at all.

What's out now is the Warner Archives version. Warner Archives is kind of the anti-Criterion but even more awesome for it. Basically, Warner is sitting on a ton of films that people want to own on DVD but that don't merit a full-blown DVD reissue complete with remastering, bonus features and ad campaign. Some of the movies are cult classics, some have various legal strings that hamper distribution; anyway, what Warner is doing is they're making a lot of these movies available for direct purchase via the internet. They're not remastered, they're simply ripped from whatever best print Warner has in storage, they don't have bonus features or even chapter divisions (there are chapter tags every ten minutes, however, to expedite fast-forwarding), they're burned in small lots as opposed to manufactured in bulk (the DVDs have the distinctive purplish sheen of a DVD-R, though the title side is screen-printed), even the boxes are generic.

I don't know how URGH! would fare on a boss sound and video system. I suspect that the quality is equivalent to a brand-new VHS copy, maybe a little better, or maybe even a laserdisc version. For my system--a slowly-dying CRT and a sound system that was fairly good fifteen years ago--it's excellent, or at least as good as it ought to be cranked up; there are a few performances where the sound mix isn't great, but wasn't great on the original recording (and you'd have to wonder how faithful a digital remaster would actually be, since the saturation issues are probably inherent to the original audio recorded at the venue--i.e. there's not actually anything to remaster because the clipping is on the original analog tape). But this isn't a Pink Floyd show, y'know? Quite the opposite. The Cramps, for instance, ought to sound a little frayed, it's part of their native charm.

Anyway, I feel I had to go into the technical limitations as a caveat for anyone who might consider buying this DVD, by which I mean anybody who likes punk and new wave and early eighties music. I'm happy to say URGH! kicks as much ass as it did thirty (ouch!) years ago, and it's a lot of ass. It really is a blast, an awesome, awesome time capsule of some really interesting and exciting stuff. I'm still grinning like a lunatic over what I just saw and heard.

Playing us out: it was hard to pick one, and the one I picked (Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation") isn't embeddable (but you can watch it here), so here's Devo, with "Uncontrollable Urge"--


Making national healthcare look better every time they open their frinking traps...

The Republican National Committee conducted a survey in Washington state that featured this question:

It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?

Does this possibility concern me? After reading the Republicans' response--that the question was "inartfully worded" (my ass), I have to admit it's increasingly becoming less of a concern and more of a hope. Given that the public option is dying on the vine, however, it's probably too much to ask for.

First the Republicans accused the Democrats of wanting to kill old people, then they accused Democrats of wanting to chop up American penises (penii?), and now it's just a flat up "they want to kill us." Well, you know, I'm not a Democrat and probably shouldn't try to speak for them, but I'm inclined to think the Republicans may have finally gotten it right on the third try. Or maybe that's just me.

Where do I sign up to be a death panel overlord again?


Failure = secret success

>> Thursday, August 27, 2009

So... come here often?Last week I let myself get sucked into a little bonfire John Scalzi was playing with over Star Wars. Scalzi had promised to hit Star Trek next, and now he has. I read it expecting to be amused, and I was, although not in the way I expected; nor did I expect to write a response to anything in it, because, frankly, while I do actually love Trek and it was sort of my gateway drug to SF (I still fondly remember having a much-used View-Master disc from what would now be called "The Original Series" when I was in the single-digits and knee-high to a sehlat), I'm not really that devoted to Trek, if you know what I mean.

But then I read this (which I feel strangely compelled to point out contains plot spoilers to Star Trek: The Motion Picture even though ST:TMP came out thirty years ago (I cannot believe that's true), so if you haven't seen ST:TMP, don't) (I mean don't see the movie, you're fine reading the next paragraph):

In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a Voyager space probe gets sucked into a black hole and survives (GAAAAH), and is discovered by denizens of a machine planet who think the logical thing to do is to take a bus-size machine with the processing power of a couple of Speak and Spells and upgrade it to a spaceship the size of small moon, wrap that in an energy field the size of a solar system, and then send it merrily on its way. This is like you assisting a brain-damaged raccoon trapped on a suburban traffic island by giving him Ecuador.

I just want to say that this paragraph almost--almost--salvages Star Trek: The Motion Picture while also postulating another movie that I want to see, one in which an extremely mad scientist gives Ecuador to a brain-damaged raccoon, preferably after outfitting the raccoon with a jet pack or maybe some kind of laser device.

I mean, seriously (sort of), I had not contemplated that that was V'Ger's backstory. I just thought the whole thing was kind of a dumb ripoff of all those Star Trek episodes featuring out-of-control ultra-powerful robots or computers (specifically, "The Changeling" from the second season, which was pretty obviously the source material for the pilot episode script for "Star Trek Phase II" that got stretched into TMP), though I always liked the idea (jokingly suggested by Roddenberry, I believe) that Voyager VI had crashed into the Borg homeworld.

But consider the scenario Scalzi unintentionally suggests: V'Ger, having survived the black hole without spaghettification (GAAAAH), is found by a couple of highly advanced, super-intelligent, drunk aliens with a bizarre ("alien," if you will) sense of humor.

"Grddnormnick, dude, you know what would be totally awesome? We should totally put it into a death-machine the size of a small moon and send it back to them."

"Oh, oh, oh--hell yeah, we could put a webcam in it, and a microphone, and tell 'em we're gonna blow up their planet if they don't, like, tell us the form of the creator and stuff. Or, like, make 'em think we'll destroy their whole civilization if they don't make an amateur porno for us."

"Oh, dude, this is gonna be the best thing since we reversed the polarity of Persei Omicron 6's magnetic core. Pass the Funyuns."

Or, y'know, maybe sending us a mentally-challenged computerized death machine was a punishment for littering.

"Dammit! First they spray the whole universe with electromagnetic radiation that turns out to be crappy mass-media 'entertainment' and now they're actually tossing junk into black holes as if that's what they're there for! I'm sick of it, Matilda, the damn cops keep telling me there's nothing we can do about a class III species and they're just semi-sentient and I should 'lighten up', but I'm frinking sick of it! I'm sending their crap back to them, get the box the Infinite Data Collator came in, I'll stick it in that and dump it on their doorstep, see how they like those apples!"

See, I thought the idea that V'Ger was being sent back to us was meant by the film's writers to just be a kind of cosmic semi-coincidence--sure, V'Ger was looking for Earth and the "creator," but it was just kind of an accident V'Ger had been turned into a super-probe with (speaking of bad design) a camera that just happened to record things by disintegrating them and zapping a big glowy copy into its vast supersized spaceship-engulfing innards. The idea that maybe somebody sent V'Ger back this way on purpose had not dawned on me. I like it. Now I want to remake Star Trek: The Motion Picture, only instead of the first five hours of the movie being about how Kirk's chauffeur can't find the docking ring and has to fly in circles around the Enterprise, I want the first five hours to be about drunk or pissed-off aliens deciding what to do with this hunk of junk that's ended up in their yard....

Design failure in Star Trek you say, Mr. Scalzi? Non! You just made Star Trek: The Motion Picture awesome... in my mind.

The real movie still kinda sucks, though.


Rest, now

>> Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.

Edward Moore Kennedy (1932-2009)


Admissions and fears

>> Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fucking hell.

One officer expressed concern that one day, Agency officers will wind up on some "wanted list" to appear before the World Court for war crimes stemming from activities [redacted]. Another said, "Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this... [but] it has to be done. He expressed concern that the CTC program will be exposed in the news media and cited particular concern about the possibility of being named in a leak.

There is a moral obligation to disobey an unconscionable order, including an order to commit a human rights violation. And I don't see how the men or women quoted above were unaware they were obeying orders to violate Federal or international law.

That said, it's not enough to prosecute them; prosecuting them without prosecuting their superiors is immoral and unconscionable. The people who issued their orders are, at a minimum, co-conspirators subject to the same punishments (except, as said previously, in a case in which death resulted from torture).

I'm reading the excerpts in Salon; I'm frankly not sure I have the stomach for the full report. This is damning, shameful material.


Chilling effect

I respectfully regret this decision by Attorney General Holder [to appoint prosecutor John Durham to investigate CIA torture allegations] and fear our country will come to regret it too because an open ended criminal investigation of past CIA activity, which has already been condemned and prohibited, will have a chilling effect on the men and women agents of our intelligence community whose uninhibited bravery and skill we depend on every day to protect our homeland from the next terrorist attack.

How often does one get to say this--that I hope Senator Lieberman is right for a change?

The hardest part of hoping the Senator is right has nothing to do with the fact that the Senator is a social conservative quasi-right-winger and sore loser whose response to being rejected by his own party was to flip allegiances long enough to secure re-election by courting his home state's reactionaries and then flipping back to enjoy the perks of being a member of the majority party that had attempted to purge him. No, the hard part is that I'm skeptical about the Senator's basic premise that passing and enforcing laws has a deterrent effect. Generally speaking, deterrence fails--most criminals in most situations are frankly too inebriated, too stoned, too desperate, too mentally ill, too ignorant of the law, too emotional or some combination of one or more of the preceding to actually think "the consequence of my next action might be incarceration or worse"; that, or they ineptly perform a crude and off-the-cuff cost/benefit analysis and incorrectly conclude that the consequences of their actions (to themselves or others) are outweighed by real or imagined benefits. Of course, let us acknowledge an error on my part in that previous sentence, too: in fact, the conclusion that the risk is outweighed by the benefits is frequently correct. Crime does pay. Even when a criminal is caught, it still may be worth it: we are only kidding ourselves, for instance, to think that incarcerating Bernie Madoff for his twilight years really balances the scales against the ginormous mounds of cash he stacked up and squirreled away on the other side of the beam; should it happen that early-onset Alzheimer's runs in his family, Madoff should be laughing all the way to the prison infirmary over the rooking he's given all of us.

So, in short, I don't think much of deterrence as a theory or rationale in criminal justice. This is the kind of thing, by the way, you talk about at some length in a Crim Law class in law school. Cracking open my old Crim Law textbook (I happened to be using it recently as a weight for my PT, so it happens to be at hand), the first fifty-or-so pages of the volume deal with theories of why we punish: deterrence at page five, incapacitation at fifteen, rehabilitation at twenty-one (old liberal that I am, naturally I like that one), retribution at twenty-seven, denunciation at forty-three (I'd forgotten that one: "A penalty declares, in effect, that in the society in question the offence is not tolerated," quoth Nigel Walker, Punishment, Danger, And Stigma: The Morality Of Criminal Justice, (1980)). They're not all necessarily exclusive rationales, of course, though they are competing. As I say, I like rehabilitation when it's possible and incapacitation when it isn't, and I don't think much of deterrence for the reasons given previously nor do I care much for retribution (I find it an understandable but primitive goal) or think much of denunciation (though writing this post, I'm reconsidering it).

But perhaps there's an exception. My take on deterrence is formed in no small part by dealing with certain strata of society and certain kinds of misdeeds. True, I think a larger principle applies--I don't deal with the Bernie Madoffs of the world, but it seems fairly obvious to me they're not deterred by the prospect of imprisonment while they're hiding their millions and billions. But consider the CIA operative, making government wages. Tell him that he may be locked up, no, that he will be locked up for engaging in torture, and perhaps he will be deterred from doing so.

Put it into statute and prosecute those alleged to have violated this statute, and perhaps--as Senator Lieberman says--it will have a chilling effect on those who would consider such acts.

And indeed it's already in statute. Here is the text of 18 USCS §2340, defining certain terms used in Title 18, Chapter 113C of the United States Code:

As used in this chapter [18 USCS §§2340 et seq.]--

(1) "torture" means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) "severe mental pain or suffering" means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from--
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) "United States" means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States.

And here is 18 USCS §2340A (helpfully titled "Torture"):

(a) Offense. Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

(b) Jurisdiction. There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if--
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.

(c) Conspiracy. A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

Consider something interesting in §2340A: that the United States Federal Courts have jurisdiction over an alleged torturer if he is an American national, regardless of wherever he or she might have been when he or she was allegedly torturing. I've written about Universal Sovereignty before; here is a related legal concept, scholars, a form of universal jurisdiction. Murder in Montana, and Michigan can't prosecute you for it; torture in Cuba, however, and if you're an American we certainly can prosecute you for it wherever you may go, wherever you may have been. Unless, of course, we lack the will to enforce our own laws. Perhaps because enforcing our own laws is politically inexpedient, perhaps because it will trigger outcries against witch hunts from those who would have supported us in passing healthcare reform if only we hadn't been sidetracked by partisan issues like enforcing the laws. (Oh, wait....)

Here is the difference between myself and the Senator from Connecticut, as if it even needed to be said: I welcome the chilling effect. I somehow, in my obvious and inconsistent naïveté, thought that perhaps having a statute outlawing torture in no uncertain terms would already have that chilling effect; sadly enough, my cynical view that deterrence doesn't work has been vindicated yet again, or so it seems so far.

Something else, I'm afraid: this week we have the declassification and release of a 2004 inspector general's report on the CIA interrogations. Nevermind the tired "debate" over whether waterboarding is or isn't "torture" notwithstanding all the times it's been identified and prosecuted as such: the CIA report informs us that we have threats to kill terrorists' children (torture as defined by 18 USCS §2340(2)(D)), we have people being approached with power tools (torture as defined by 18 USCS §2340(2)(A) and/or (C)), simulated shootings (torture as defined by 18 USCS §2340(2)(A), (C) and/or (D)); there's more, but I've only read the excerpts thus far. Here is a lawyerly exercise for you, one that you can perform with spare mental CPU cycles as you do some mundane task in the relative comfort of your home, office or en route between: pick your theory for prosecuting the case, which act violates which clause(s) of subsection (2) of Federal statutes effective November 20, 1994. The CIA has given John Durham so many ways to make a case should he choose to do so.

As I was writing all of this, I'd started to say I didn't think much of "denunciation" as a rationale for punishment. After all, I started to say, I took it for granted that my culture didn't look kindly upon rape and murder. But I put myself into a hole on that one--I'd have once thought my culture didn't look to kindly upon torture, and here we are, actually arguing over whether or not people who repeatedly, clearly, mercilessly broke the law and/or who conspired to do so (punishable the same as perpetrating the offense as a principle, save that conspiracy to torture is, unlike torture itself, a non-capital offense even if death results (18 USCS §2340A(c)). I take too much for granted, I'm sorry to admit. And so I have to add this as a sort of postscript: that regardless of whether or not enforcing a torture statute deters criminals (and not enforcing it obviously sends the clear message that Title 18 Chapter 113C, is merely a bunch of words from an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing), perhaps our society needs to engage in denunciation, no, strike the word "perhaps." If we really are, despite all the evidence to the contrary, a moral and virtuous people deserving of the benefits liberal democracy has conferred upon us for more than two centuries, if we are more than the caricature our critics or enemies make of us, if we are not a vile and craven people who deserve the worst we can suffer, then it is a moral duty and responsibility to denounce what we have done and those who did it on our behalf, and not just by flinging invective at them; it is our calling to enforce the laws or admit we have failed as a civilization.


"The monkeys are loose..."

>> Monday, August 24, 2009

Just watched this season five Kids In The Hall sketch and had to share it--it may actually be their best ever. Dave Foley explains the finer points of holding and wielding power:


Why Star Wars is the awesomest movie ever made

>> Friday, August 21, 2009

It's easy to rag on Star Wars. As a somewhat-famous online essay says, "Star Wars fans hate Star Wars," and of course it's absolutely true. We, and I do mean we, really do have a kind of bittersweet relationship with the whole thing in whatever form.

What brings this up is a little bit of recent poking by John Scalzi, who I think knew he was going to stir the pot with a follow-up he wrote to a humorous piece on bad design in the Star Wars universe. (One of many old running gags among fans, along with the bad aim of stormtroopers--of course, Scalzi misses the flip-side running gag, "Ridiculously Convenient Design In Star Wars," a list that naturally starts with "Hey, how wonderful is it that my utility belt just happens to have a super-helpful grappling hook and fifty feet of high-test line attached to it!" Yep, guess stormtroopers are sorta like Boy Scouts, prepared for anything. Anyway, moving along....) Anyway, Scalzi went on to say Star Wars is bad SF, which I guess is true. And immaterial.

In spite of Star Wars' SF trappings, I've considered it a fantasy series for twenty-something years, and not because the SF stuff fails so consistently. It's because the first one is a pretty traditional fantasy quest (skip the Joseph Campbell stuff, it gives me a headache and it's horseshit--I'm not talking about "heroic journeys" or whatever). It's the abduction of Guinevere with less sexual tension and Meleagant on an aqua-lung. Also, Meleangant has a badass laser sword and can choke people with his brain.

I'd like to thank John Scalzi for making my mind go there, actually, because it was an overdue reminder of what I loved about the original Star Wars as a child and what a part of my brain that will never get past the seventh grade (hi, Hannah!) will always love. See, Star Wars is this movie where:

See, there's this farmer who gets a message in a bottle from a beautiful princess who was kidnapped by the evil Black Knight, and then he gets into a fight with these, like, Bedouins or something but he gets saved by Gandalf who gives him his Dad's magic sword that he was holding on to after the Black Knight killed the farmer's Dad and they go off to storm the castle where the Black Knight took the princess and he's like a wizard, too, and the farmer's best friend is a cowboy, only the cowboy drives a B-52 bomber and he has a dog that's also a gorilla, and they get into these fights with these, like, Nazi-knights or something and they all have ray guns that go b-deww, bwoo-bdoo and then Gandalf gets into this swordfight with the black knight and they have these, like, laser swords that go bzzzzzzz, krish, krish, schlurssssh and then Gandalf sees he has to let the bad guy kill him and so he gets cut in half but then he's not there and he becomes a ghost and the farmer and the princess and the cowboy and the gorilla-dog and their robots (did I mention they have robots?) get into the B-52 and they fly off and they're all being chased by the bad guys' spaceships which look like bowties and they're all like bdeww, bdeww, kbloosh, bdew, bloosh and they blow up all the enemy fighters and they land in like this Mayan pyramid and all decide to fight the bad guy's castle in their spaceship jetfighters and they're all, like, firing lasers and stuff and then the cowboy comes back because he really wasn't as big a jerk as he pretended to be (he was just trying to be cool and stuff) and makes one of the Nazis crash into the Black Knight and the kid closes his eyes and fires his rockets into the bad guy's castle and it goes KERRRRRRBLOOOOOOOOM and kills Dracula, and then they all get medals and I guess have a party and stuff, except the gorilla-dog who just kind of stands there.

And that's why Star Wars is the awesomest movie ever made.


Only because I wanted to be the first person to use this joke...

>> Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hey, look! It's Il Douche:


Wheaton's Law trumps again

>> Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kate pointed me to a discussion occurring online, one that involves Nick Mamatas (whose Move Under Ground is an interesting if not, to my mind, wholly successful mashup of Lovecraft and The Beats) and Jeremiah Tolbert (whose work I don't believe I'm familiar with). The discussion is over, I guess you could say, the necessity or desirability of being nice and constructive with criticism. Mr. Tolbert's position can be partly summed up in the title of his post: "Be A Positive Force In Fandom, Not An Asshole," though Mr. Tolbert goes a bit further and suggests being specific in criticisms and remembering that there are people on the receiving end of those criticisms. Mr. Mamatas' position, in a nutshell, is that Mr. Tolbert is wrong.

Could be they're both wrong, actually. Though both pieces are worth a read.

The problems with Mr. Tolbert's piece are fairly well summarized by Mr. Mamatas. The one thing I'd add that I think Mr. Mamatas sort of alludes to but ultimately talks around is a response to this passage in Tolbert:

So you have a burning desire to share your disapproval of something and you just can’t be stopped. Fine. Leave your critical remark, but here are critcial [sic] remarks that do nothing but hurt people:

'It sucked." [sic]

"Don’t quit your day job"

"I want my [PERIOD OF TIME SPENT] back."

"Who likes this shit?"

Do you see the trend here? We've all seen these comments. Most of us have probably left them at some point. What’s missing here is substance.

You owe your fellow humans to be specific in your criticism. It’s in everyone’s best interests for a creator to improve, and they can’t use your feedback to do that if it doesn’t have any substance.

Mamatas points out that some targets of criticism just don't care. What I'd point out is that, unfortunately, sometimes things just suck, and there's really not a useful nice or civil way to say it. Britney Spears' cover of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock And Roll," for example, objectively sucks: it's a terrible rendition that's overproduced, that suggests the person performing it is at best casually acquainted with the rock'n'roll œuvre, and pretty much pisses on the legacy of one of rock's greatest and most ass-kicking "bad girls" with a soulless, mailed-in, all-about-the-marketing rendition. Now, you might be thinking, "Well, hey, that's specific"--well, no, that's why Ms. Spears' cover sucks, but if you want it in two succinct words, boldtype, top-of-the column, "it sucks" is all the review it really deserves. And I don't much care if Ms. Spears knows that it sucks or her feelings are hurt, hell, for all I know she knows in her heart of hearts that it sucks. Sucks ass. Sucks hard.

Which brings us to another issue, actually, and that's the fact that not everybody deserves to have their feelings spared. Most people do--and that's is where I think Mr. Mamatas is wrong, or partly wrong when he takes Tolbert to task. On the other hand: it's purest coincidence, but I happened to re-read Hunter S. Thompson's obituary for Richard M. Nixon, a brutal, completely truthful, totally fair and accurate evisceration not of a person's creative output but of his entire miserable, crooked, shallow, worthless life, and it's as fine a piece of continuous invective as you're likely to find in the English language. And of course it's not nice because Richard Nixon didn't deserve nice. If anything, Mr. Thompson maybe goes a little easy on old Tricky Dick.

Of course, Nixon isn't around to Google himself and have his (purely hypothetical) feelings hurt (to the best of my knowledge, Neil Young is the only one to suggest Nixon had soul, and he was being snarky at the time), and he was dead when Thompson famously bled his spleen onto Nixon's corpse; but Nixon's family was still around, and, more importantly, as Thompson points out, he didn't say anything after Nixon was dead that he didn't say when he was alive. To his face, on at least one occasion:

Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.

Nixon laughed when I told him this. "Don't worry," he said, "I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you."

I feel a little bad saying this, because I'm a touchy-feely liberal sensitive bleeding heart, the kind of soft douchewad who stopped on his way to where his car was parked after work today to watch a little grey bird hopping around, the type of guy who hates seeing women cry and who feels guilty within seconds of yelling at his cat for drawing blood (which may be why the cat still thinks feet = cat toys and is generally spoiled and ill-mannered), but here it goes: some people deserve to have their feelings hurt. Repeatedly. Most people don't. And in a way I don't even believe that about "some people," at least not consistently; my favorite lines from Shakespeare, actually, are this sort of obscure bit from Hamlet:

My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

God's bodykins, man, much better: use every man
after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?
Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less
they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
Take them in.

(Act II, sc. 2)

Everybody deserves to be treated better than they deserve. Except the ones who, for whatever reason, don't.

What can I say? So I'm a terrible human being after all.

But this phases into where I said Mamatas was wrong--you do remember I said both writers were wrong, right? Mr. Mamatas says that Mr. Tolbert "gets it all wrong," but Mr. Tolbert is correct that most people deserve to be treated well. Richard Nixon deserves to have his feelings hurt--he can take it, especially now that he's dead. Britney Spears is a bit of a pathetic, tragic figure, but her music really is a travesty and it would have been a kindness, and not just to the music-listening public, if she'd skipped the career altogether (honestly, if she'd had a day job that wasn't working for Disney and later for Jive, she might have been happier and saner while simultaneously sparing us various awful creative productions1).

But a lot of the bile that gets slung around the internet is slung at people who don't really deserve it at all, and Tolbert is right to make a general plea for people to try to be nicer to each other. Even if a few people deserve it, most don't. And even when one deserves it, sometimes you're just demeaning yourself to dish it out.

Wisdom comes from Wil Wheaton, of all places. Who knew a kid who poked dead bodies and ruined Star Trek for a few years would turn out to be the best and brightest guy in geekdom, raconteur, good dad, gamer, lust-object for Suicide Girls--the man is The Man. And you know what I'm going to say: Wheaton famously said, "Don't be a dick," and that's really what it boils down to. When Hunter S. Thompson posthumously eviscerated Richard Nixon, he wasn't being a dick, he was being someone who told truth to power and wasn't going to mince words about it. And that's the real point that Messrs. Mamatas and Tolbert are spiraling around from opposite sides. Piling on to somebody who doesn't deserve it is being a dick; but then so is laying off somebody who has really earned a good slagging. Y'know, Thompson's obit makes this point, too, actually: when President Clinton and Senator Dole and others went to Nixon's funeral and made nice (and you should keep in mind that Sen. Dole had some prize things to say about Nixon during Nixon's wilderness years; for all his faults, Dole had a keen sense of humor and a wicked-sharp tongue combined with little patience for horseshit), they were being dicks: they weren't there out of respect so much as they were there out of obligation, and anything nice they had to say about the late lamentable ex-Pres were lies, lies and lies. Lying to somebody to spare their feelings isn't necessarily a nice thing to do, and while it's sometimes good to keep your feelings to yourself, sometimes a solid thrashing is a favor, whether it toughens up someone and makes them stronger or whether it drives them into something more productive.

So there it is: read Mr. Tolbert and Mr. Mamatas, because it's an interesting dialogue, and then ignore them both and listen to Mr. Wheaton: say what needs to be said, and/but don't be a dick.

1A related aside: "Oops, I Did It Again" is actually a song with a solid pop hook when Ms. Spears is extracted from it. Don't believe me? Here's one of the best guitarists alive to back me up--Mr. Richard Thompson, take it away:


Ask me if I've memorized Fireball. You bet your ass I've memorized Fireball...

>> Monday, August 17, 2009

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Wizard (5th Level)

Ability Scores:







Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)


Rainy Sunday 2009-08-16

>> Sunday, August 16, 2009


For Nathan

It's all true, dude, in fact it's even worse than you think....


For all the audience knows, Palpatine is pissed that Mace Windu showed up at a party wearing the same lightsaber...

>> Saturday, August 15, 2009

So I watched Revenge Of The Sith tonight. It's a helluva lot better than I remembered it, though it's hard to tell how much of that is due to minor edits George Lucas made for the DVD release1 and how much is due to faulty memory or time healing wounds (Sith was, frankly, a terrible disappointment in the theater after the ups-and-downs of Phantom Menace, which is awful, and Attack Of The Clones, which I think is a better movie than Return Of The Jedi).

That said, Sith is a fucking mess. It's just all over the place. A lot of it is the usual suspects list of George Lucas-movie problems, but some of the issues, frankly, are legacy problems from the way Lucas made Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones. Lucas probably needed another movie in there somewhere to explain what the fuck was going on and to make Anakin Skywalker's fall-from-grace make sense; better yet, Phantom Menace simply should have been a different movie--it should have been Clones, basically, with something else serving the role of "Episode II."

This sense is only reinforced by the other DVDs I watched en route to watching Sith again. I've actually owned Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars three-season "microseries" on DVD for a while now, and I watched them again "in sequence" between Clones and Sith, and it's still depressing (though a testament to Tartakovsky's gifts) that Clone Wars manages to do so many things that Lucas' features fail to do. The third season (second disc) of Clone Wars tells a powerful little story and fills in all of the nice bits of character and motive that really needed to be in the features, and just weren't.

This brings up one of the interesting problems with the prequel trilogy, and it's not one that gets discussed too often because fans miss it and non-fans just don't give a shit: one of the biggest problems with the prequel trilogy is how much Lucas depends on "virtual mass." What I mean by that is that there are all these bits and pieces in the prequels that are supposed to have weight, but they only have weight if you're already immersed in Star Wars lore via the "Expanded Universe" of comics, games, and novels. It's not just throwaway lines, like Obi-Wan's comment in Clones that Anakin will be the death of him--those are alright. It's entire characters and moments.

Take, for instance, Senator Palpatine. He shows up in The Phantom Menace and you're obviously supposed to know who he is and that he eventually becomes the Emperor, and that things like the bit where he tells Anakin he'll be watching Anakin's career have a touch of menace to them. But, you know, as far as I can recall, the name "Senator Palpatine" isn't mentioned in the original film trilogy a single time. That's not to say it's a new thing or recent development in any way--my recollection is that Palpatine is mentioned by name in the Alan Dean Foster-ghostwritten-for-George Lucas novelization of the first movie. "Palpatine" is a longstanding bit of Star Wars lore. But if you're not a fanboy and if you're not old enough to recognize Ian McDiarmid, I think you're justified in wondering who the fuck the geezer is.

It gets more fundamental than that. Ask a fanboy about the title of Episode III, and he'll tell you that in the real world it's a nod to the original title for Episode VI before Lucas decided Jedi don't take revenge (a decision made so late in the process that there are collectible promo materials in circulation featuring the Revenge Of The Jedi title) and that in-universe the Sith are getting revenge for their humiliation in the Great Sith Wars that took place one-to-two thousand years before the Battle Of Yavin in Episode IV (that's "BBY" to the cognoscenti) and that the Sith themselves were a non/quasi-humanoid race strong in the Dark Side of The Force who were on the wane on a few isolated planets like Korriban until Jedi explorers happened upon them and were overtaken by the temptations of evil.2 I know that because it's in games and comics and such--why, I'm working on a Saga Edition campaign for friends that's set in the Knights Of The Old Republic-era, and a player characters' sidetrip to Korriban certainly isn't out of the question.

But not a bit of that is in Episode III. What the fuck is a Sith? I know, but it's not in any of the movies. Why are there only two at a time, a master and an apprentice, as Yoda says in Episode I--again, I know the answer, but it's just a tossed-off line that's never explained in any of the prequels, and it doesn't make a lick of sense (okay, it doesn't make a lick of sense in the Expanded Universe either, but I still know the answer). What's a "Darth"? Revenge for what? Honestly, based on what's in the prequels, the only people with a real right to be pissed are the poor to-be-slaughtered Jedi, and they're not allowed to be pissed (for reasons that, yet again, really aren't adequately explained in the movies).

I think this is actually a pretty bad issue for the movies, and it's worth studying just because anyone with an interest in genre lit--especially those with an interest in writing genre lit--should take notes. Ever come into the middle of a several-book series and found you not only had no idea who the characters were, but you couldn't even force yourself to care because all the "interesting" things about them were established elsewhere and are just casually, meaninglessly referenced when they're mentioned at all? Yeah, it's the same thing.

Adding insult to injury, Lucas responded to the backlash against Phantom by saying it wasn't a film meant for fanboys, it was a film meant for a new generation. Which is fine and all, but fanboys (and girls--yet again, I'm using the masculine for convenience, not exclusivity) were and are the only ones with any hope of understanding or even caring that the Sith have returned and what it means to be in Hutt Space and here's a reference to something else there, etc. I found myself, yet again, wondering if any of these movies had anything to offer someone who wasn't already in love, and of course lovers are fated to be disappointed by these particular gifts, again and again and again.

Still, learn from Uncle George's mistakes, eh? I know there are readers here who are also writers in their own right: should you write a sequel (or perhaps you have already), don't assume that everybody already knows what's what and who's who. A scene in which all of the weight is based on some other happenstance somewhere else isn't real weight, and it usually isn't earned. Sure, your repeat readers may find it terribly emotional that so-and-so tells somebody-or-other that the great-whatsit from another source has suffered or enjoyed a terrible whatever, but that's really a hollow simulation of an experience at best. And at worst? It's a plain-flat-out-tired-old cheat is what it is. So please don't.

1Weirdly enough, I remember seeing a list of changes, including a claim that the infamous "NOOOOOOO!" is shortened (which it seems to be), and now I can't find it. All I can find is the repeated claim that officially there are no changes to the DVD release of Sith, which is contradicted by a repeated recognition of one minor change--a wipe being replaced by a clean cut.

The opening battle seemed to me to be both tighter and include more material, but that may just be my faulty memory at work. Still, the whole thing seems strange.

2Am I a fanboy? I'd say "yes," but I actually fret that hardcore fanboys would turn on me as a poseur. I play the videogames, have read several of the novels, own the complete Dark Horse reissue of the Marvel run of comics from the '80s, and own all of the Saga Edition rulebooks currently in print (along with copies of two West End manuals and Wizards' RCE). And I'm familiar with the Death Star diameter debate. And yet I've only read a few of the novels and don't own hardcopies of any of them, I haven't seen the most recent animated movie or series, and no doubt a real fanboy could mop the floor with me in a trivia contest. I'm not ashamed of my Star Wars fannishness, I just don't want to write checks I can't cash.


I'm a twit

>> Friday, August 14, 2009

Some of you asked. Some of you begged. Some of you will have to explain to me how I'm supposed to follow tweets and whether there's a good aggregator for a smartphone and things of that nature.

There. Happy now?


Lunatics and retards

I should probably be on Twitter. As I was riding into work, I found myself pondering the present situation in D.C., and the apparent belief on the part of certain parties that there should be cooperation on healthcare--Democrats should compromise and Republicans should have their way (to paraphrase a Kids In The Hall line). And I thought, "Y'know, I really don't see the margin in trying to negotiate with lunatics and retards." And I thought that would possibly be a witty thing to "tweet," although I was driving and couldn't have tweeted it even if I had an account.

That statement isn't too precise, of course; it should probably be "lunatics, retards and opportunists," since I'm not sure that some of the people who are siding with the lunatics and retards actually believe that President Obama is Kenyan or that the healthcare plan will require "death panels" or whatever. Sarah Palin might--but I think we already covered lunatics and retards, and Ms. Palin is probably comfortable with both camps (in a Venn diagram, one suspects she's at the center of the overlap consisting of insane retarded opportunists, actually). But most of the people in Congress who refuse to admit they believe the President is an American citizen are probably merely people who have grabbed the tiger's tail in the mistaken belief it will drag them someplace other than its lair for consumption at leisure by the tiger and her children.

That's not to say there isn't room for principled opposition to national healthcare in whatever form, or to the healthcare plan that's being proposed--being somebody who thinks national healthcare's probably a good idea, I'd have to fault current proposals for not going far enough. But claiming that Obama is trying to murder your grandmother really isn't principled opposition, now is it? It's simply a lie.

What prompted this little line of musing, actually, was something a bit simpler and far more trivial: at the traffic light waiting to get onto I85, I found myself behind some moron with an "Impeach Obama" bumper sticker. The problem with this sticker isn't that the driver doesn't like the President--that's his right, naturally, and an "I Hate Obama" sticker (or even a "Don't Blame Me, I Voted For McCain" sticker, however prematurely-posted) wouldn't have inspired me to call the person responsible for the sticker a retard. No, the problem with the sticker is that it advertises the person's apparent complete ignorance in how his government actually works; the President is impeachable for "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors," and there's no rational evidence for any of the above at this date. Granted that there's some confusion about what constitutes a "high crime" or "misdemeanor"--then-Representative Gerald Ford famously said a high crime or misdemeanor was whatever Congress said it was, which seems overbroad and yet the two impeachments that have occurred were politically-charged affairs that provide little guidance otherwise. Still, one has to conclude that the person responsible for the bumper sticker either doesn't know what the grounds for impeachment are or believes in some utterly crazy crackpot theory that features President Obama as a member of a Fifth Column of insane East Africans who have been trying to take over the government of the United States for forty years by carefully positioning one of their representatives to win a hotly-contested primary and thereby have some possibility of maybe being elected to the Presidency of the United States. (Oh, if only they'd foreseen the need to destroy that Kenyan birth certificate before a dentist could bring their plans crashing down 'round their ears!) Either way, you know, the guy's a moron.1

There is some good, I learned today, in the morons exposing themselves, as a jackass at Investor's Business Daily recently did,2 writing:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

...a comment that was subsequently retracted from the editorial when it was pointed out that Professor Hawking is, you know, English and lives in England (where he's a professor at the university at the center of my favorite band's hometown, by the way--which is actually in, hold on to your hats, England).

Hawking himself responded, "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS [National Health Service]." And that wasn't the last of it.

A common refrain one hears in this country from opponents of national healthcare is the repeated criticism of British healthcare. Say that you're in favor of some kind of national healthcare system in certain crowds, and you can practically count down to, "So you want medical rationing like they have in Britain?"

In the wake of the IBD gaffe and similarly-themed statements by conservatives here, however, the Brits have actually started to stand up for themselves, and this is the nice thing I learned today: it seems that "#welovetheNHS" has become a popular feed on Twitter and many Brits are coming to the defense of their slandered healthcare system (additional examples of NHS feeling the love can be found in the comments of the previously-linked Daily Mail article).

Granted, this is all anecdotal evidence, and online anecdotal evidence, which is the worst kind of anecdotal evidence. But at least it's an antidote to the usual tired song we hear in the States about how utterly awful British healthcare is and apparently has been for the sixty-one years the British have had to suffer through it after it was forced down their throats by Great Britain's most notorious Bolshevik. Maybe, you know, there's a reason the English have put up with what we Americans have been routinely informed is a terrible, incompetent, substandard system of providing medical coverage for six decades during which social classes have been in flux, the balance of power has shifted back and forth between liberals and conservatives, and British society has passed through economic and domestic upheavals.

I think I am now out of steam. I'd like to close this post out with something pithy and wise, or perhaps some illustrative anecdote of my own, but you know what? Endings are frequently overrated. Buffy ended badly but was a great show, Jedi is the weakest original trilogy movie but we love the original trilogy, the final scenes in Psycho are anticlimactic, dumb, and dull.3 So, clever, clever, clever; summation, summation, summation, final flourish. Thank you for your consideration. Have a good weekend.

1So what about the people with "Impeach Bush" bumper stickers? That depends on when they were slapped on the bumpers, since there potentially were grounds for impeaching President Bush by the time he left office. If President Bush authorized torture, for instance (a complicated and unresolved question at this time), I think evidence that the President authorized the commission of felonies under Federal law and crimes against humanity per treaties that the United States is party to probably constitutes commission of "high crimes" under a commonsense interpretation of that phrase.

The question of whether misleading Congress as to the grounds for military authorization (as President Bush evidently did, as did President Lyndon Johnson after the Tonkin Gulf incident) is grounds for impeachment is probably more complicated. Is it a "high crime" or a "misdemeanor" within the meaning of Article II? I don't know. One suspects it's a bit worse than lying under oath about getting your wang sucked, which the House has deemed a ground for impeachment, but I don't think that's a very serious or meaningful answer, frankly: the question of a President's duty to the public and to the co-branches of government in a free society deserves a more thoughtful response than a snarky reference to a dated bit of partisan political theater.

People who had "Impeach Bush" bumper stickers six months into the Administration were morons. People who had such stickers six months before the Administration left office may have had a legitimate point.

2H/T to Phiala!

3"Hi, I'm Doctor Exposition, a licensed psychiatrist/expositioner who has been hired by the court to explain the plot of the movie to slow people in the back row of the auditorium. (Hi, guys!) Now, I'd like to bore you gentlemen with a hackneyed explanation of why Norman Bates is crazy, but you may want to get yourselves a fresh cup of coffee, because I promise that this explanation of Mr. Bates' psychosis is not only hackneyed, has no basis in contemporary psychiatry (and it's 1960, we still blame having gay on bad mothering and treat it with electroshock! we're practically trepanners!), but also very boring. If you want to leave now, please do--I'm the next-to-last thing in the film except for a last double-exposure shot and cheesy voiceover that really isn't worth sitting through my lecture."


Les Paul

>> Thursday, August 13, 2009

Checking the news, I just read about Les Paul's passing away at age 94. I'm not sure what to say about that, actually--as a dabbler in guitar (indeed, a fairly serious player at one point in time), I'm looking at the passing of a legend, though one has to acknowledge he had a good, long run, and at 94 his passing isn't necessarily shocking.

I've actually done a short entry about Mr. Paul previously, embedding an old video of Paul and longtime partner/spouse Mary Ford showing off their stuff. You might hop over to the link--in addition to being a brilliant inventor, Paul was a phenomenal musician in his own right.

Much will be said about Paul's invention of the solidbody electric guitar and the role it played in rock'n'roll. As much as I love the heaviness and sustain of a solidbody guitar, I'm not sure the solidbody was ultimately as significant as Paul's other major invention, the use of multitrack recording techniques. Aside from the fact that Paul's rival luthier Leo Fender wasn't too far behind Paul on the same path to building a solid guitar, I'd argue that making the studio into an instrument in its own right had a more profound effect on how we listen to music than the evolution of any one "traditional" instrument. Multitracking did more than make it possible to layer sounds over sounds and to turn a four-piece-band into a dozen people--multitracking also means you're not dependent on capturing a perfect live take with everyone getting everything right all at once. The lead singer flubbed a note? Punch it in. The guitarist blew the solo? He can fix it while the rest of the band heads down to the cafeteria. Of course this is all technical: artistically, multitracking is what made possible wholly synthetic aural experiences like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Dark Side Of The Moon, in which tapes are looped and split and assembled to create collages of music, voice and sound effects.

Anyway, thank you, Mr. Paul. And not just for the fab guitars.



So apparently MGM is remaking Red Dawn. 'kaaaaaaaay....

Anybody of a certain age remembers Red Dawn, probably not so much from its stint at the theaters so much as for the fact that it became a staple of cable television. In the 1980s, as HBO and Showtime began to expand and cable TV went from being a newfangled luxury to becoming a household staple, the premium cable channels not only didn't offer a lot of original programming, they also didn't offer very much by way of formerly theatrical movies, and it often seemed like each premium channel maybe only had one movie it was showing at all during any given month--I mean that you'd turn on the TV and flip to HBO or Showtime and, oh look, they're showing ______ again, you'd turn off the TV and turn it on again a few hours later and it would be ______ again. Anyway, for months or maybe even years, Red Dawn was that movie, a ubiquitous presence that people around my age probably saw hundreds and thousands of times, just because it was on. It became a touchstone, a reference point for an entire generation--which is presumably what MGM is thinking with the announcement of a remake.

The thing is, it's not a good movie. Red Dawn as a cultural touchstone for thirty-somethings is in the way of a bad inside joke. Making a snarky reference to "Wolveriiiiiines!" isn't a matter of respect or nostalgia, it's... well, you know, it's snark. It's ironic.

I don't think this is even a liberal/conservative cultural divide thing, either, with conservatives taking the film seriously and liberals not-so-much: one of the best uses of Red Dawn's ludicrosity (if that isn't a word, I'm making it one) was the South Park episode "Grey Dawn," with the conservative Trey Parker and Matt Stone milking Red Dawn's ridiculous premise for all it was worth by replacing the Russo-Cuban invasion force with old people (an invasion of paratrooping old people being more plausible than a Cuban incursion into Colorado--I mean, look, see, it could actually happen).

Did anyone other than the director who made it and the critics who hated it take Red Dawn seriously? Maybe Carl Ellsworth, who's apparently writing the remake; then again, maybe Ellsworth just doesn't believe in badmouthing his newest project--that would actually make more sense, though he did say:

As Red Dawn scared the heck out of people in 1984, we feel that the world is kind of already filled with a lot of paranoia and unease, so why not scare the hell out of people again?

Reading that, I can't help thinking about the best scene in A Hard Day's Night, the one in which George Harrison stumbles into an ad exec's office and is mistaken for an actor auditioning for a campaign promoting some grotty new shirts. The exec casually tosses out his trump card--that George will get to work with "Susan"--only to be horrified when George refers to her as "that bird on TV who's always getting things wrong... we all point and laugh when she comes on" and confesses that he and his friends sometimes write and send her fake fan mail telling her how "gear" and "fab" she is. As far as I know, Red Dawn didn't scare anybody in the 1980s--we all pointed and laughed when it came on, and quoted the movie's catchphrases at singularly inappropriate times and howled, and speculated on when a sequel might finally come out.

Which does, I guess, suggest one way in which Red Dawn redux might be successful after all--I suppose if it's campy enough it might enjoy something like the recent "success" of Tommy Wiseau's brilliant, evocative, penetrating The Room, a movie that redefines the art of film.

But let me ask: am I wrong? Is there anybody out there who ever took the original Red Dawn seriously? And is there any chance that a post-9/11 remake that attempts to tap into contemporary "paranoia" and "unease" will be anything other than a parody of a sham of a joke? Do tell.


The economy's been tough on puppets, too, but at least there's Metric

>> Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Metric, "Empty":


High school with (or without) ashtrays...

>> Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Things change. Not exactly a novel observation, I'll grant, but sometimes you have to start with the obvious. Still, let's be more specific: childhood has changed. It used to be that childhood functionally ended in the mid-teens with most people at that point going off into a trade (if they hadn't already--e.g. in the 18th Century you could evidently enlist in the British Navy as young as the age of nine) and getting married. The conventional wisdom is that lifespans were shorter then, which is true up to a point--actually, if you made it to your thirties or forties, you could reasonably expect to go on until you were in your sixties or seventies; the sense that lives were shorter comes at least partly from the fact that childhood mortality rates drag down average figures for life expectancy (could be all those nine-year-olds in the Navy... sorry, couldn't stop the snark).

These days, we keep kids in school by law until they're sixteen, and stagger out the perks and penalties of adulthood out through the ages sixteen to twenty-one: driving, voting, drinking--even joining the Navy, since it keeps coming up. It's not unusual to hear this lamented, but the reality check on this is that the human brain isn't an adult brain until its early twenties, with the prefrontal lobe (responsible for duties such as foresight and planning and understanding consequence) remaining in a plastic, unfixed state until early adulthood (c.f. this interview with Jay Giedd at NIMH). This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's ever attempted to get a teenager to give a coherent answer to the question, "What the Hell were you thinking?" In other words, extended childhood isn't so much a "luxury" as it is an acceptance of reality that brings our expectations in line with our biology. Yes, people used to be thrust into the world when they were fourteen or fifteen, expected to work and have and raise kids--but unless you're postulating that human brain development was fundamentally different a hundred years ago, the reality is not that these kids were more mature at that age and adulthood began earlier; the reality is that a hundred years ago children were expected to work and have kids at ages when their brains were works-in-progress. I actually find it to be a wonder that things worked out as well as they did insofar as the human race survived, but then perhaps the innate immaturity of human beings placed in roles of responsibility before their brains were fully functional goes some way in explaining why life was harder, uglier and more violent.

The notion that humans are children until their early twenties is radical but biologically grounded; but such a statement also isn't to say that older children shouldn't be given any responsibility at all. Indeed, just as a five-year-old is capable of exercising more responsibility with less supervision than a thirteen-month-old, so it's reasonable to assume that a nineteen-year-old ought to be more independent and responsible than a sixteen-year-old. The notion that the nineteen-year-old is still, at least in many respects, a child isn't to say that he should be stuck in a diaper and given a pacie. But I think it's also reasonable to say that a nineteen-year-old shouldn't necessarily be dropped off in the figurative wilderness with a knife and a piece of string and left to his own devices. Sure, the parts of the nineteen-year-old's brain concerned with physical and linguistic development may be in good shape, but remember: the parts of his brain involved with appreciating the consequences of his own actions (and the actions of others) remain, well, kind of retarded, to put it bluntly. The young man (or older boy) is sort of a moron, at least in some respects, which is why he's apt to do something stupid or to get himself in over his head. Indeed, this is a dangerous age precisely because some parts of his brain are well developed while others are basically broken.

A sensible society that takes heed of this--perhaps unconsciously and by accident--might well decide that the sensible thing to do with these man-children (and women-children: I've been using the male example, but girls are hardly better) is to find some place for them where they get a few "adult" options and responsibilities while continuing to live in a somewhat structured environment without the full range of adult responsibilities or freedoms. Of course, even a sensible society rarely engages in thought-out, long-term advance planning. No, what usually happens is that some social institution originally designed for some other purpose gets jury-rigged into a new role, perhaps over time and accidentally. Thus, a social institution originally intended to protect the body politic or a social institution designed to preserve and extend knowledge might become a culture's transition ground for children becoming adults. Just to cite, you know, two completely off-the-cuff possibilities... oh, wait.

I can't really speak to the military experience as a formative experience for kidults; had the draft been instituted in the late eighties, when I myself was a mentally-defective manchild lurching uncertainly towards adulthood, I would have been a conscientious objector or, barring that, in jail (I resolved I wouldn't flee the country to flee a draft--perhaps an example of possessing an unfinished frontal lobe, I don't know). But I can speak to the college experience, something I entered into when my ambitious plans of "making it on my own" worked out about as well as you might expect most eighteen-year-old idiots' plans to.

No doubt there are some ambitious souls who go to college to learn useful skills or a trade. More power to them. And, of course, this accounting doesn't apply to the "non-trads": those who return to college as actual bona-fide adults. But, I suspect, for most kids college isn't a place where you go to learn about the "life of the mind" or to learn a "useful" field. Rather, I think that for most kids college is the place you attend for grades thirteen through sixteen, which is why large numbers of the children entering college as freshmen seem a bit confused about why they're even there. There's a line, I believe, from the recently late John Hughes' She's Having A Baby in which a character describes college as "high school with ashtrays"; I don't believe there's been a more apt description of the contemporary university experience, at least there wasn't until they banned smoking on most college campuses. Now, I suppose, it's just high school, except some of the kids can actually purchase alcohol legally.

Let me be explicit, if you haven't figured out the cut of my jib yet: I think this is understandable, expected, and good, or at least as good as it gets. I think society has implicitly taken this into account in the fact that a college degree has replaced the high school diploma and postgraduate degrees have effectively replaced the college education as the mark of the dedicated few who wish to become experts, professionals and the elite in their fields. I said "as good as it gets" a moment ago because you can argue that a better solution would be to extend high school to age twenty-one and I wouldn't argue the point, I just think you'd have a helluva time getting anyone to agree to do it that way. And let me be explicit about this: college is not a waste of time, even if a kid learns nothing academically, any more than high school is a waste if the kid doesn't get much out of that, either. At best, college is a learning opportunity, don't get me wrong; but at worst it's a kind of holding pattern for people who shouldn't be out on their own and can't be locked up at home, either, and that's a good thing, too.

Naturally, there are conservatives who will dispute nearly everything I've just written, and will go on to ask why should society pay for it if I'm right. One of the problems with conservatism as a philosophy, of course, is right there in the name, and here we come back to the very first-and-obvious sentence of this post: conservatives are remarkably resistant to the notion that things change, and if twelve-year-olds in Roman times had jobs and wives or were sold into slavery, well, by God, that ought to be good enough for the pampered and coddled proto-commies of this era. Or something like that. Realizing that eighteen-year-olds are too dumb to hold jobs and ought to have their hands held until they're twenty-two isn't something I have a problem with, obviously, and if we could agree an eighteen-year-old is too dumb to take up arms for his country I'd be happy to agree he's also probably too dumb to vote; American society has certainly agreed he's too dumb to sell liquor to, and I'm not sure you get dumber than that. Things change, and just as we can adapt to the idea that women can do math and drive and that poor people shouldn't have to work fourteen hours just to lease their dinner from the company stores, I'm sure we can adjust to a new sense of what college is, if we haven't already (I'd contend we have, and that it's implicit in our expectations for high school graduates and in the way jobs are posted). I think it's in the nature of conservatism to cling to prejudices as keenly as they cling to "tradition," assuming arguendo that there's a difference between the two.


Five stages of The Phantom Menace

>> Thursday, August 06, 2009

I: Denial

1999, outside the theater: "That... that was pretty good, right? Yeah! Yeah it was! That was great! Awesome! I'm buying the soundtrack on the way back to the house!"

II: Anger

2001, arguing with friends over dinner: "It's good! It has its moments! I mean, it wasn't made for us, anyway! We were little kids when the first one came out, and this one was made for our kids! Fuck you! It does what it sets out to do! It's not that bad, so just shut the hell up, already!"

III: Bargaining

2002, after seeing Attack Of The Clones: "I'll concede that Phantom Menace could have been better. Lucas was kind of rusty after a long time away from the camera. Even so, you have to admit Phantom Menace has its moments--the lightsaber battles are pretty cool, the podracing sequence is awesome. Someone did this "Phantom edit" version where they cut out Jar-Jar Binks and most of the kid's dialogue, and I heard it was pretty good. Anyway, Attack Of The Clones is a lot better, I think it's better than Jedi; you have to admit it's pretty good."

IV: Depression

2005, after seeing Revenge Of The Sith: That... that's what I waited for for so long...? I shoulda known after Phantom Menace... I... I shoulda known....

V: Acceptance

2009, after finally giving in and purchasing the prequel trilogy on DVD, while watching Phantom Menace again in its entirety for the first time in ten years: "This is just awful. This is just fucking terrible."


The late Mr. Hughes

I heard on the radio on the way home that John Hughes is dead. If you're a certain age--as I am--Hughes was a sort of defining cinematic presence. It wasn't simply, as a commentator on NPR said, that he made teenagers seem real (although that was a part of it): Hughes was the guy for the time, the guy whose movies had the sound and look of the 1980s. The kids weren't just recognizable as '80s high school students, they listened to the same cool shit we listened to, they had the style and the attitudes we thought they were supposed to have.

Hughes eventually graduated, after a fashion. He got tired of making movies like Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink and went on to retire from directing and write things like the Home Alone movies, which were frankly just awful. Among his last forays into directing were workable flirtations with adulthood, Planes, Trains And Automobiles and She's Having A Baby, but as funny and penetrating as those movies are, they don't have the charm of Ferris Bueller's Day Off or The Breakfast Club or even Weird Science (a movie that, I think, somehow manages to succeed in spite of constant attempts at every moment to Epic Fail).

The fact that he vanished into a behind-the-scenes role writing and producing some mediocre-to-terrible films (take a look at his decline here if you don't believe me) is part of the reason I'm not sure what to do with the news. Of all the iconic figures of my youth who have passed away recently, this is one that's weirdly unaffecting. He was a brilliant guy who couldn't fail, and then he wasn't. But I guess that doesn't change the fact that for the entirety of my teenage years, he was one of the grown-ups that "got it," or seemed to. So rest easy, Mr. Hughes, and I won't forget about you.


"The Hit"

>> Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Was watching the fifth season of The Kids In The Hall this evening, when this Dave Foley short really resonated for some reason--sometimes, life is just like this. Somehow. Not sure how that works out, exactly, but it's true nonetheless. Strange thing is, I'm not sure if I'm the employer or the employee here....


We're all Kenyans now!

I've mostly avoided the Birthers because I didn't want to give them air time. What we're seeing in the Birthers will be sort of interesting in the long run just because we're seeing what a flaky nutter movement looks like in time-lapse; they're exactly like the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists and the Apollo-landing-was-a-hoax crowds, except that now (thanks to the internet and cable TV), instead of it taking five years to assemble a book full of cherry-picked mistakes and fallacies and to save up the money to print a thousand copies through a vanity press, now you can just spew it out onto your blog in five minutes and be prattling away to an MSNBC host the next day. Orly Taitz's crazy-ass-what-the-hell? legal action will implode far more quickly, than, say for instance, Jim Garrison's, and it will be in large part due to the instantaneous international attention (people on the internet sussed out Taitz's use of fraudulent documents and questionable witnesses in two days; it took years with Garrison, and some people still don't know how crappy his case against Clay Shaw was). I expect the demise to be just as expedited, much as the "truther" movement's has been--it's not that there aren't adherents, lots of people still cling to the delusion that Oswald was innocent, for instance, or to the idea the World Trade Center was felled by missiles or lasers or something; but, let's face it, these are marginalized beliefs when you get right down to it.1

So I'm not too worried about it. But then how could I resist this after seeing it in Salon: thanks to the wonders of the intertubes, you too can have your very own Kenyan Birth Certificate from the aptly-named Kenyan Birth Certificate Generator!

Here's the one I made--I didn't want to offer any personal information (could be some kind of funny-but-evil phishing thing, you never know), so I sort of winged it (with a little help from Wikipedia, actually); also, I'm clearly one sick and twisted little fuck:

Have fun!

1Okay, yes, I know: a distressing majority of the American population embraced JFK-related conspiranoia in the '90s after Oliver Stone mainstreamed it--so you can say there's some lasting damage there. On the other hand, it's not like it's something people talk about every day. For that matter, when was the last time you saw Oliver Stone on TV? JFK conspiranoia is, if you will, a mainstream marginal belief--something that a lot of people buy into if you ask them, but only in a kind of nebulous, half-assed sort of way. I think, ultimately, it's mostly harmless.


My latest trick

>> Tuesday, August 04, 2009

It's amazing! My arm fits through a jacket sleeve! My skin is exposed to open air! And, most amazing of all, my fingers can actually fing!

It's been weeks, literal weeks I tell you, since I looked so forward to wiping my ass.

Some of you may be thinking, "Hey, haven't we seen an image like that before?" No! That image has little bits of tape holding my blood and guts inside my arm. Well, maybe not the guts so much. And maybe not the blood, really, either--look, it's different, okay!

The deal is that on July 22nd Dr. Perlik pulled the pin. (Then he counted to three and threw my arm at a Nazi machine gun nest, it was freaking sweet. Okay, maybe that last part didn't really happen. Forget it.) Between then and now, I've had to have a bandage on it, and then Bill the physical therapist said I could just get by with a Band-Aid instead of swaddling it (which was great, notwithstanding the rash from the adhesive that started developing a day ago), and whenever I was doing anything other than sitting in one place very quiet and still I was supposed to wear the splint, pretty much for protection. (As Dr. Perlik's nurse pointed out when she called to follow up, if anything got in the hole where the pin was removed before it healed, the hole went all the way to the bone. Which was a pleasant thing to contemplate, believe you me. So anything providing an additional layer was a good thing, not to mention the fact that I still shouldn't bang my arm into anything or, I dunno, take up rugby or go dancing at a bowling alley.)

Today I had my follow-up, and the stitches were cut and the doctor told me I didn't have to wear the motherfucking, cocksucking, sonofafuckingbitch, rimjobbing, assleaking, cuntdripping, prickoozing, tit-of-a-whore, horseraping, shiteating splint anymore. Okay, I don't think those were his exact words, although I'm pretty sure that's the way I heard it.

I don't have to wear it while I drive! I don't have to wear it after half-past-five! I don't have to wear it in the house! I don't have to wear it to trap a mouse! I don't have to wear it on the job! I don't have to wear it to put down a snob! I don't wear a splint at all, Sam-I-Am! Not one that's big, nor one that's small!


So yes, if you can't tell, I'm in a swell frame-of-mind. I guess Second Amendment enthusiasts are on to something after all:

A bare right arm really is essential for freedom....


Offering your random dose of J-Pop/Punk for the day

>> Sunday, August 02, 2009

Ketchup Mania, "BAD!BAD!BAD!":

Hope you're having a good Sunday.


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